Have the rumours of Belgium’s imminent demise been greatly exaggerated? If the reports are to believed the country is in political turmoil, with still no government three months after the elections and the very strong possibility of partition. A “velvet divorce” akin to the break-up of Czechoslovakia may be on the cards as the rival French and Flemish speaking regions gradually assert their differences. In the event of such a scenario the bureaucratic melting pot of Brussels would effectively become an independent enclave along the lines of Washington DC.
Furthermore it begs the question after almost two centuries of existence - what has the nation often labelled Europe’s most boring country contributed to the world? Apart from the world’s finest beer and chocolate of course. And lace and the odd Eurovision winner. With its flat monotonous landscapes and lack of any distinct national characteristics this bastardized low-lying Franco-Dutch-Germanic hybrid Frankenstein country has naturally come in for much stick. I remember a joke from some radio comedy show presented by a bunch of smug middle-class Oxford/Cambridge- educated comedians which went along the lines of - “an area of tropical rainforest the size of Belgium is burned every year. What a waste - why not just burn down Belgium instead?” Belgium is an easy target for such (I hesitate to use the word “satire”) ridicule, but these were the very same people who would look down on the end-of-the-pier/working men’s club-type comedians for being racist. Kettles and pots.
Having spent a year in Belgium at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve during my student days as part of a pan-European university exchange scheme, I can confirm that it is not the most exciting country in the world, nor are its citizens particularly interesting. This is not to say the place is not worth a visit - it can hold its own among the nations of Europe. Paris has its Eiffel Tower, Rome has its Coliseum, Berlin has its Brandenburg Gate…and Brussels has a statue of a young boy urinating in the street.
The other well-known joke was name five famous Belgians - ok, here goes - Hergé, creator of the well-loved cartoon character Tintin, cycling legend Eddy Mercx, five times winner of the Tour de France, Rubens the Flemish artist, King Leopold one-time colonial ruler of the Belgian empire in Africa - and fifthly the country’s most celebrated female icon, the great brewer Stella Artois.
But the question still remains - if Belgium really is Europe’s dullest country, where does that leave Luxembourg?
Monday, September 10, 2007
Posted by CW at 9:08 PM